A Byte of Apple : The Lull Before the Storm?

All it took was a couple of innocuous third-party app screenshots in several patent applications Apple had filed late last year, and the next thing you know, vocal advocates of developer rights were screaming nothing short of bloody murder! If you haven’t tuned into the ‘Where To?’ furor that has erupted so far, what actually happened is this. Apple’s patent application described an integrated travel application for the iPhone, which allows you to for example feed an itinerary into your iPhone and have it send out notifications to your hotel and taxi service the moment you landed at your destination! It just so happened that in the description of the patent, there was a screen image that was pretty much a direct copy of the interface found in the third-party application ‘Where To?’. What was meant to illustrate a user interface that one might expect in such an app turned into quite something else. Instead of being treated as a tip of the hat to the developers of ‘Where To?’ for their excellent user interface, Apple has on their hands mass hysteria and blind panic that followed (in some circles, at least), with many claiming that Cupertino was trying to patent third-party application ideas and claim their IP to be its own. Things only quietened down when reps from Apple sat down with folks who developed ‘Where To?’ and discussed alternatives such as attributing the screenshot in the patent application to ‘Where To?’.

As loyal and fiercely protective developers get around a platform, Apple’s possibly learnt something out of this – reach out to your developers and keep them in the know, especially if their intellectual property figures anywhere in your documentation.

Now, while the company was fending off this issue, their senior execs weren’t far behind, with iPhone Hardware Engineering Chief Mark Papermaster leaving the company in the wake of the iPhone 4 ‘Antennagate’ issue. Many will remember Papermaster as the former IBM exec who was the subject of a lawsuit when he tried to move to Apple in 2008. In his short tenure of a little over a year and a quarter, surely Papermaster couldn’t be held responsible for all of the iPhone 4 issues, especially when you consider that the iPhone 4 design was possibly as many as 2 years in the making. Reports suggest that Papermaster had a falling out with Steve Jobs over corporate culture differences, and that, not the iPhone 4 antenna, was the reason he was let go.

(image courtesy flickr user i1no)

And as we went into writing this week’s A Byte of Apple, an innocuous blog post about the Dell Streak pricing by John Gruber, Daring Fireball blogger and purveyor of all launches Apple, set expectations of a much sooner-than-expected iPod update, maybe even as early as next week. iPods are traditionally updated in September, but Gruber suggested that “if you wait a few weeks to buy the Touch, you’ll get one with a Retina Display and dual cameras.” This ties in perfectly with the leaks of prototypes of cases for the new iPod Touch with a hole for the rear facing camera, but the prospect of getting a front-facing camera and FaceTime capabilities is juicy indeed! Suddenly, Steve Jobs pronouncement that Apple expected to ship “tens of millions” of FaceTime-compatible devices this year is looking very real and achievable, isn’t it?

There’s even talk of an iPad update with a retina display, but can Apple be that cruel to its 1st-gen early adopters? I expect the iPad to be updated, possibly even drop a few inches in length in early 2011, so the iPod event, whenever it happens, should focus purely on the iPod family. And you know we like our gadgets nice and shiny, so we cant hardly wait for this one!